Russell pondered roofs in 1945

Fred Russell, an award-winning sportswriter from the now-defunct Nashville Banner, penned this piece, entitled “Cheating the Weather,” which was reprinted in the July 1945 issue of Baseball Digest.

A classic bit of baseball nostalgia, Russell’s missive was also noteworthy in its prescience. Baseball would indeed be played undercover 20 years after his Baseball Digest byline. It happened deep in the heart of Texas – Houston to be specific – when the Astros opened what was then called Harris County Domed Stadium, later known as the Astrodome.

Just as Russell predicted, eliminating “the weather angle” was the main value. According to legend, former Houston mayor Roy Hofheinz spawned the dome idea while he and his daughter endured a Houston Buffs minor league rainout in 1952. His idea became a real-life baseball edifice on April 9, 1965.

The retractable roof concept Russell envisioned wouldn’t become reality until a disastrous attempt in Montreal some 23 years after the Astrodome’s debut. Dangling from a giant inclined tower, Olympic Stadium’s massive retractable cover loomed ominously over the dreary facility, a dizzying example of Organic Modern architecture gone awry. Suffering from myriad problems – it took 45 minutes to open, a process which couldn’t occur at all in winds exceeding 25 MPH – the cover remained permanently closed until its complete removal in 1997.

Russell’s vision would finally be realized successfully in 1989 with the opening of another Canadian facility, Toronto’s SkyDome, which featured a simpler design and a roof that opens in 20 minutes, leaving more than 90 percent of the stadium bathed in sunlight, weather permitting. Two World Series and an MLB All-Star Game have since been contested under its retractable canopy and Russell saw it all, anchoring a sports editor’s desk from 1930 until 1998. He continued writing through the early 2000s until his passing in 2003 at age 96.

– Jayson Hron


One thought on “Russell pondered roofs in 1945

  1. Thank God for dreamers and visionaries . . . they gave us the “seeds” of today’s miracles! As Russell noted, someone also dreamed about being able to illuminate a field for night baseball and it planted a seed that “cheated the darkness”.

    In 1967, I remember driving 3 hours, one way, to see my first Twins game and pulling into the parking lot of the Met to hear the game being called due to rain!

    Russell, whether knowingly or not, was planting a seed for retractable domes and engineers were listening! Apparently, engineers didn’t like games cancelled due to weather either! Ha!

    Fun read, Jayson!

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